Homes Sales - and Building Permits

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Real Estate

Nothing shines a spotlight on the need to obtain (or close out) any building permits like selling your home.  A provision in the contract reads “Seller will comply with all New Jersey laws”.  This is commonly interpreted to mean  that you obtained any building permits required by your township. Your buyer’s attorney will advise them to check with the Building Department to ensure that proper permits are in place.


How do you know what repairs, replacements, or improvements required municipal permits?  Some that seem obvious no longer require building permits in NJ – such as a roof replacement.  Replacing your water heater will likely require both plumbing and electrical permits. 


The best way to find out which items required permits is to contact your township’s Building Department and ask.  Nearly all towns allow an application to be submitted after the work has been performed, although the requirements may vary by town.  It is ultimately the homeowner’s responsibility to obtain the permit, but oftentimes the contractor performing the work applies for the permit even after the work is complete.


This is the process:  you (or your contractor) complete the forms from your town’s Building Department.  They are generally happy to help you “fill in the blanks” if you are completing them yourself, either because you did the work or because you can’t track down the contractor who did.  They have, by law, twenty days to review them and issue the permit – but it often takes longer.


After you have been notified that the permit is ready for pick-up, you go to the Building Department, pay a fee, and schedule the township inspector(s) to come to your home to inspect the work.  The fee is a percentage of the cost of the work performed.


After the inspector passes the work, you will receive a “Passed” sticker and a signature on the permit paperwork noting that the permit is “closed”.


Why are permits such a big deal?


- if the work does not comply with the building code, the item may be unsafe to use.  An example would be a gas-fired water heater with an improperly-sized chimney which would potentially create an issue with carbon monoxide.


- if you paid a contractor to do the work, you have every right to expect that it was done properly and is code-compliant.


- if your municipality imposes fines for non-permitted work, you could potentially be fined.  Most allow an amnesty period when you are applying after the fact as long as the permit is closed within a certain timeframe.


- if obtaining a permit at a later date, you may be required to bring the item or installation up to current building codes, not the building code in place at the time of installation.  If the permit is obtained when the work is done, that’s a non-issue.


- if you have a fire in your home, one of the first things an investigator looks at is to see if proper permits are in place.  If you performed your own electrical work and did not obtain municipal permits, and the fire is deemed to have started because of an electrical issue, your insurer may not be willing to cover the damage.


If you aren’t sure what items in your home have permits in place, an easy way to check is to file an OPRA Request (Open Public Records Act) with your Township Clerk.  Ask for the status of any open or closed building and zoning permits. 


Since it can take a while to get through the process of obtaining and closing out permits, best to start BEFORE your home is listed!  That way you can ensure that the need to close out permits won't delay your closing.